Drinking with Don

Editor’s Note: Friend of the Brewery Chris Tacy went on a pub crawl with Don Younger last Friday as part of the Horse Brass’ 30th Anniversary Celebration. This is his story.

When I first heard about the Horse Brass Pub Crawl I was excited.

Then I became afraid.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to go through this progression of thoughts and emotions.

The set-up…

30th Anniversary of the Horse Brass. In case you live under a rock… the Horse Brass is one of the most famous bars in the US and almost certainly the best beer bar in Portland (and a candidate along with Toronado in SF for the best in the US).

Various festivities planned. One of them… a Pub Crawl with Don Younger. That’s right… A guided drinking tour of the best beer city in the US with the godfather of PNW craft brewing.

So… first thoughts were, “I have to do this.” And, as noted above, second thought was, “Can I possibly survive this?”

I tried to rope various friends in as the days went past. Few seemed to have the nerve – and once we found out it began at 11am on a Friday, none who had the nerve could pull it off.

So it’s 10:30 am and I’m leaving work to go drinking. Weird.

I arrive at the Horse Brass a little late and see a seriously motley crew of reprobates gathered by the side bar. Oh damn … this could be bad. Sure enough, here comes Don. I shake his hand and am told that since I’m the last one there I’m the first one off if they have too many people.

What should I hope for?

I’m scared. From the accent it’s clear that a whole bunch of these folks are Brits. And listening to them, it sounds like about half the folks are bar and pub owners. In other words … professional drinkers. And Don … Well, Don is legendary.

Luckily (?), I fit in the van.

Chris is On the Bus

And we’re off. But first we need to drop Don’s car off at his house. Hmm… is this a bad sign? Clearly there are expectations…

A bunch of the folks in the van are looking quite shaky on their legs. I’m wondering about their health until I realize from listening to them that they’ve been celebrating the 30th anniversary for days now and what I’m seeing is some sort of truly chronic group hangover.

Oh … the people on the van … folks from the “sister pub” in SE London. Folks from a pub in New Zealand. And Australia. A couple employees and ex-employees of the Horse Brass. Three or four long-time friends and regulars. Partners … Did I say “reprobates” yet? Seriously.

We leave Don’s house and he throws in what will turn out to be the first of many Meatloaf CDs. Seriously.

And we’re off to the first pub.

Hedge House. New Old Lompoc. SE PDX.
We pile in to hear what will become a familiar refrain, “the first round is on Don and Jerry.” Oh… Shit…

Hedge House Sign

C-Note Imperial IPA. A classic Pacific NW-style IPA. Very hoppy, a ton of grapefruit (taste and aroma). Quite oily. It’s a bit too sweet for my taste – and quite heavy. Not a session beer. Don suggests the Condor instead – but I explain I’m not a big Pale Ale fan. We are going to repeat this throughout the day. We’re also going to repeat the experience of watching the Brits taste NW craft beers and go, “Ack!! Too much flavoUr!!” In the end, they will be reduced to drinking cider and whiskey … But I’m getting ahead of myself. So we down our C-Notes, snap a few pics and back in the van.

The group is still a little subdued. Strangers. Hangovers. You know.

Don Younger Leaving the Hedge House

Rose and Raindrop. SE Industrial. 
The smell is always a little off-putting here. Musty, almost like a frat house post party. But the beer selection is nothing to complain about (to say the least). Again … we’re getting comped beers. This could be bad.

Rose and Raindrop, Portland, Oregon

Start off with Walking Man’s Homo Erectus. My kind of beer. Very clean and balanced. Hoppy – but in proportion. A classy brew. Could drink this all day long. But, of course, we’re being told we need to try the Stone Oak Aged Arrogant Bastard they have on tap. Ouch!! Huge beer. Hammers my palate. Oily, hot, heavy, hoppy, malty. Monster beer. Layered. Probably couldn’t drink more than 8 oz. and still enjoy it. And now they’re pushing the Abita Turbo Dog. Wit Dopplebock – or so they say. Unique tasting beer. Doesn’t taste like the style – I can taste the wheat, but it doesn’t have the sweetness. Very unbalanced. Hides the alcohol well – but still not the tastiest beer. This is kind of the beer equivalent of Everclear. Easy to drink, could be a session beer, but doesn’t taste very good and has a monster kick. 

Dave is sending me text messages of questions to ask Don.

“Has Michael Jackson ever been in the Horse Brass?” Yes. First time in 1979. A couple times every year.

“What beers did the Horse Brass start with?” Guinness, Watney’s, Lowenbrau, etc. Wasn’t until he tasted New Albion that he became a supporter of local micros (but it only took that first sip).

A Beer.

And now they’re popping the very first release of the 2006 Full Sail Wreck the Halls. I’m not a huge winter/christmas beer drinker. But this stuff is pretty damn good. Very malty, but with strong grapefruit and floral hop notes to balance. Quite sweet – but not too hot or spicy. Doesn’t seem raw – like it wouldn’t really need cellaring. Some interesting pine resin/hop notes in the nose. Hmm … I like it! The Brits are asking for Stella and not getting it.

The bartender gives us the bad news. They will be closing for good on January 1st, 2006. They’re putting in a bank. WTF?!?! There is already a bank next door!!

We’re pissed. There is some photographer who sets up lights and shoots a bunch of photos of Don at the bar.

“10 minutes – drink up!”

And back in the van.

The group is far less subdued now. In fact, we’re seeing the beginnings of some boisterousness. Don cranks the Meatloaf a little louder. We’ve got some serious backseat driving going on as we cross the river.

New Old Lompoc. NW 23rd
I pretty much never come here. Not ’cause I don’t like it – but because of where it is. Not my scene. That being said, it’s a nice bar. Nothing fancy, just nice. Again, “first round is on Don and Jerry.” I’m feeling a bit blurry after the Rose and Raindrop.

D Note. Imperial IPA. I like it a lot more than the C Note. Less sweet, less oily. The bitterness is amped up, but to me it tastes more balanced. Strong grapefruit notes – but less resinous. 
Don corners me. “So … What do you do? Why are you on this tour? Why do you like beer?” and we’re off on a long conversation about running businesses, the Horse Brass, politics, marketing, customers, employees …

The man is amazing. Insane. A genius. Incredible. Demented. A savant. A legend.

The two women in the tour return from a brief shopping break. One has bought a new, unusual, hat. The other a fur coat. Hmmm…. 

Back in the van. Well more than “a bit” blurry now. The van is getting raucous. Talking shit about gold trading (seriously), the history of Portland, politics.

Amnesia Brewing. NE Mississippi.
Super industrial. Warehouse. Some confusion as we enter. Ahh… I think this time we’re paying.

Amnesia Brewing, Portland, Oregon

Desolation IPA. I’ve had the beer before and didn’t hate it. But something is wrong here. It’s cloudy. REALLY cloudy. More cloudy than Blue Dot. More cloudy than most unfiltered apple ciders. And it doesn’t taste right. At all. Sure, it’s big and hoppy. But it’s also really dry and hot. It’s got an off, wheat/alfalfa flavour. It’s also too cold. Way too cold. As it warms up, it gets salty and thick and even more unpleasant. Sadness.

The Brits are now drinking only cider – with one exception. Martin seems to have embraced the NW style and is drinking almost only IPAs.

“10 minutes. Drink up.”

Folks are having a hard time getting in and out of the van. We’re bouncing around a lot. Oh … speed bumps.

Where are we?
Where are we going?
How many more stops?

I swear to god, I think we’re in Washington State.

5th Quadrant. NoPo.
Nice space! Haven’t been here before. I like it.

More Lompoc.
More D-Note.
This one tastes, if anything a bit more balanced.
Of course… How can I tell?
I’m still trying to take notes. But it’s hard work.

I’m still taking pictures with the camera phone but I’m not confident about the “quality,” you might say.

Don and I continue our talk. Now it’s the philosophy of what he does. We’re talking about Stumptown also. And beer. How beer is irrelevant. And how beer is central. He tries the D Note. He seems to like it – but sticks with Condor. He knows everyone in the beer world. We talk about the Toronado. We talk about Monk’s. We talk about smoking and non-smoking and trans fats.

I’m hammered.
Got no idea how many beers I’ve drunk now.
It’s pouring rain. And dark.

“10 minutes.”

Half of us are in the van.
No-one can find the other half.
Don keeps saying “herding cats.”

Finally, we’re all in the van. Don sticks in a CD with a whole bunch of version of Bodyrockers “I like the Way You Move” and the van is singing along. Except for a guy in the back who is complaining about the thumping. About how it sounds like music from a porno. Non stop bad jokes.

“Where the hell are we going?”
“We need to stop to feed the dog.”
“The what?”
“Don’t worry about it.”

Far into NoPo. must be near the river now.
We’re in the van. They’re feeding a dog.
Don is making a phone call on his mobile phone in the rain.
Or maybe taking a piss.
We’re back in the van. The dog fed. Don still on the phone or still pissing.
We drive the van down the block.
No reaction from Don.
Finally … he’s looking. Not finding us.

Back in the van.

Rush hour.
30 minutes go by.
We’re on the 15th version of “I like the way you move”.
There is a lot of whining.
Where are we?
Why is this taking so long?
It’s like a porno.
Are we there yet?

I’m sending drunken text messages.

We drive past my place.
Back to the Horse Brass.

It’s all a blur.

Good times.

Special thanks to Chris for his up-to-the-ounce coverage. I wish I could have been there. Kind of.
– Dave

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